We learned earlier this month that Matt Damon will not play Jason Bourne in writer/director Tony Gilroy’s upcoming The Bourne Legacy, the fourth entry in the gritty action series.

Gilroy spoke with Deadline this week and offered a little more insight into his plans for Bourne 4, which will apparently set the stage for Damon to reprise his role as the (now formerly) amnesiac killer – if the actor so chooses.

Legacy will feature a new protagonist that, like Bourne, is a covert government agent that was trained (or rather, brainwashed) to become an assassin by the government and likely played a role in either Operation Treadstone (from The Bourne Identity) or Blackbriar (from The Bourne Ultimatum). The fourth Bourne film – which will not contain any plot elements from Eric Lustbader’s novel of the same name – is not a reboot, as it both continues the storyline developed in the first three movies and acts to “expand the franchise mythology” by shifting its focus away from Jason Bourne himself.

Gilroy told Deadline that he “couldn’t imagine trying to replace [Damon as Bourne]” and that the Jason Bourne character himself is still very much alive in Legacy. While Damon essentially closed the door on his involvement with Bourne 4 earlier this year, he could easily return for a later film – assuming that Bourne Legacy does well enough, financially speaking, to justify a fifth movie.

Will Damon reprise his role as Jason Bourne in a later film?

Ultimatum nicely wrapped up the main plot threads introduced in the previous two Bourne movies and was both the most financially successful and critically-acclaimed of the first three pics in the franchise. Gilroy is already up against the wall to deliver a fourth Bourne movie that either matches or exceeds the quality of its predecessor – not to mention that a lot of moviegoers will likely take a pass on Legacy solely because Damon will not be back.

Is Gilroy up to the challenge? He proved himself to be both a solid screenwriter and director with his Oscar-nominated pic Michael Clayton back in 2007 – not to mention that he has been involved with the Bourne franchise since the very beginning. Bourne 4 will require someone with the technical prowess to mix engaging action sequences with drama, so Gilroy will be in mostly untested territory with his next directorial effort.

For more on the history and behind-the-scenes drama of the Bourne franchise, check out the full Deadline article.

The Bourne Legacy is tentatively scheduled to begin production in Spring 2011, with an August 2012 release date in mind.

Source: Deadline